“What’s happening to me? I don’t know” – child in reception centre.
Earlier this week, the Children’s Commissioner and her Help at Hand team visited a reception centre in Kent. This centre is set up for unaccompanied boys aged 16 to 18 seeking asylum. All the children in the centre are “looked after” by Kent for the duration of their stay in the reception centre. This makes them different to the Home Office run accommodation for unaccompanied children seeking asylum, often referred to as hotels, where there is no legal framework to care for the children.
However, the reception centres are similar to the hotels in that they areatemporary place for children to wait for a Local Authority to become their permanent corporate parent wherethey can settle in a home and begin their lives. Many of the children the Commissioner spoke to had been in the UK for several weeks, and sometimes months, waiting to hear where they would end up. Most had been in at least one Home Office accommodation before coming to the reception centre, some had been in several and some had been deemed children then adults then children moving between different accommodations as these decisions were made.
As with our recent visit to a Home Office accommodation, the boys were from countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan and Eritrea. They told that us that if things had been better in their country they would not have taken the difficult journey to come to the UK. Some said that the decision was not theirs. Some that they were fleeing persecution and torture. One child said he did not know where he was until he arrived on the beach in England.
Some of the children were aware of the current political climate and asked us, worried, if they would have to go to Rwanda and others seemed to have little idea of the immigration system or proposed changes. None of the children we spoke to had had access to legal advice.
The reception centre did offer the children activity and interpreters. The children spoke positively about the staff in the centre. Education was provided courtesy of a local charity, which offered 8 hours of classes a week from retired teachers. However, no one could say that the reception centre was a home. The children continue to wait, with no information for how long or where they would be going, for a home and their lives to begin.